Briefing Note to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Global Climate Change
The climate of Planet Earth is heating up, as we know through the empirical research conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) over the past twenty or more years. The work of IPCC, a branch of the United Nations, involves competent scientists from more than 190 nations and has led to series of comprehensive reports that clearly indicate the atmosphere is heating up and the planet is being negatively affected.
To wit, the signs are very obvious, not just in scientific studies, but in some cases to the naked eye: the polar ice caps are shrinking; the sea levels are rising; air temperatures are rising; temperatures of sea water are rising (when water becomes warmer, water expands, which explains some of the rise of sea levels); permafrost is shrinking, including in the northern territories of Canada; because ice floes north of Canada are melting, the natural habitat of the iconic Polar Bear is disappearing and the future of this great animal is in doubt because they are drowning and have to swim much longer distances to find food; and a recent study by the IPCC indicates that about "20 to 30% of plant and animal species… are likely to be at increased risk of extinction" if the global temperatures continue to rise.
There is no argument that can made any longer that can cast doubt on the fact of global climate change. Moreover, evidence discovered and collaborated through redundant research points the finger at human activities as the main contributor to climate change.
The question for the government of Canada -- and governments throughout the world -- is not, do you believe the climate is changing, but rather, what should the government be doing to address this issue? I thank you at the outset for your consideration of the positions and points presented in this briefing note.
What Should Canada Do -- And Why -- To Confront Climate Change Threats?
Environment Canada produced a lengthy report in July, 2011, called "Canada's Emissions Trends," and in the report the authors offer some common sense suggestions for your government. The report utilized information from industry sources, and the authors presented several federal government departments with the modeling results of their research in the Fall of 2010, asking those in pivotal government professions to provide input and suggestions.
Environment Canada (EC) reports that the government of Canada signed the Copenhagen Accord in December, 2009, and at that time Canada committed to reducing greenhouse (GHG) emissions to 607 Megatonnes (MT) in 2020, or 17% below 2005 levels (EC). In 2005, Canada's total GHG emissions were 731 MT, about 2% of the world's GHG emissions, according to EC's data. However, employing only existing measures, Canada will not reach its goal; in fact at the present rate of reducing emissions from Canada's transportation sector the GHG emissions will only be reduced by 65 MT, or one quarter of what Canada agreed to achieve through the implementation of preventative policies in 2020, the EC report asserts. The goal Canada pledged to shoot for is to have a target level of 607 MT.
In other words, to begin with, Canada needs to do more to reduce its GHG emissions. It will take strong political will for you to come to terms with some of the environmental realities facing Canada, but it is my belief that when you do make a broader commitment to reduce GHG emissions, it will be of great benefit to the nation, to our people and to our extraordinarily rich natural world resources -- wildlife, forests, the tundra, rivers and lakes -- that we are blessed with. Moreover, I firmly believe it will bolster your political position as a prime minister.
Why do I believe your stature as a strong political leader will be enhanced when you take positive steps to reduce GHG emissions? Political leaders pay attention to reliable polling results and I know that public opinion matters a great deal to you.
To wit, recent polls by dependable agencies reflect the concern the Canadians have for their environment, and in particular for global climate change. For example a March, 2011 survey by the Public Policy Forum and Sustainable Prosperity shows that "four in five Canadians believe that climate change is occurring" (Scolnick, 2011). The survey also reflects that "…around 80% of [Canadians] trust climate science," and this includes 64% of respondents that identified their ideological leanings as "conservative" (Scolnick, p. 2). The Public Policy Forum survey shows that "more than half of Canadians are willing to pay a carbon tax" as a way to curb GHG emission. That contrasts with opinion polls in the United States, which reflect that "less than a third" of those polled would agree to pay a carbon tax.
I'm not suggesting at all that you present a proposal for a carbon tax in Canada. But I do believe that you wish to be responsive to the views of the public, and according to a recent poll by the global market and media research firm Ipsos "An overwhelming 85% of Canadians are concerned about 'climate change'" (Martyn, 2011). In addition, only 56% of those surveyed by Ipsos believe the overall quality of the environment in their province is "good" or "better" than it was in recent years (Martyn, p. 1).
About one half of respondents in Ontario (51%) believe things "are getting worse" as regards our Canadian environment; and 53% of those surveyed in Ontario rate the quality of the air as "good or better." A Gallop Poll taken just two years ago shows that 45% of Canadians were "dissatisfied with the efforts to protect the environment," and part of that concern is based on the projections that the oil sands production will be stepped up dramatically. Informed citizens know that oil production from the oil sands generates about 10 to 30% more GHG emissions than other more conventional crude oil.
On the subject of the oil sands, there are powerful, empirical-based research studies that show the damage that can be visited upon one of our most precious and iconic natural resources, the Boreal Forest, more than 1.3 billion pristine acres, but expanding oil sands development.
And with all due respect, I must comment on your recent decision to spend "…more than 60 billion dollars on new military jets and warships" -- at the same time cutting "…two hundred million dollars in funding for research and monitoring of the environment" (Leahy, 2011). I believe you are a reasonable person and respect the views of informed citizens, but in fact you have created great concern within the Canadian community by cutting back previously federally committed environmental funds for the nation's ozone-monitoring network, according to journalist Leahy writing in The Guardian.
Canada's ozone-monitoring network is the very instrument that discovered the ozone hole over our nation in this Spring. It is known that loss of the protective ozone layer in the upper atmosphere is linked to increases in skin cancer for Canadian citizens. Moreover, the ozone monitoring technology you cut funds for will no longer to conduct "serious science," according to Thomas Duck, atmospheric scientists with Halifax's Dalhousie University (Leahy, p. 1).
The other cuts you have made are disturbing to many concern conservationists and scholars that keep a sharp eye on climate change and global trends. For example, you have recently cut the budget for Environment Canada by 20%, from $1.07 billion to $854 million for fiscal year 2011-2012. Eleven percent of the staff at Environment Canada are expected to receive pink slips soon, according to reports. Moreover the deep cuts in funding for the Fisheries and Oceans Canada -- the Canadian department responsible for protecting and managing the ocean and inland waterways (including the Great Lakes) -- are troubling to those concerned about the future of Canada's environment.
Even more disconcerting, if I may, is your edict that no government scientists may speak to the press without clearing interviews with your office first. These kinds of policies tend to be polarizing and they suggest the possible suppression of scientific information that the public should be allowed to hear and make their own judgments about. South of the border, former president George W. Bush implemented policies similar to your "gag order" on scientists, and his public approval ratings dipped to the lowest level of any president in modern history.
Thank you for keeping an open mind and accepting my comments as sincere and well researched. I would be pleased to have a chance to meet with you and discuss these ideas and issues at a deeper level. We may not agree on all matters, but we can find common ground.
What Your Government Can Do Right Now -- Priority Action Recommendations
There are things that can be done by your administration to respond to the threat that global climate change is presenting. Canada is a vast, richly diverse nation, and political leaders sometimes have to make tough…